Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: Speak

Laurie Halse Anderson
Young Adult Contemporary

Farrar, Straus & Giroux/1999

Reprint Peguin/2001/2009

From the author's website ~

Melinda Sordino busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t even know hate her from a distance. The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe. Because there’s something she’s trying not to think about, something about the night of the party that, if she let it in, would blow her carefully constructed disguise to smithereens. And then she would have to speak the truth. This extraordinary first novel has captured the imaginations of teenagers and adults across the country.

Freshman year in high school can be a traumatic experience. New school, new faces, new rules, new universe that is high school. When you start with a bad reputation and nearly zero friends it become even more traumatic. Some days it's all you can do to survive. Some days it take creativity and sheer guts to get through it. Melinda learns all of this and more when she experiences the repercussions of a horrible act.

Anderson grabs hold of the reader with the descriptively accurate insular world of high school. Many times I found myself agreeing with Melinda's observations and comments on life in high school. The cliques, the teachers, the rules - so much is the same. The basics of teen life haven't change much in the 20+ years since I went. It still has that small town feel to it where gossip is rampant and everyone wants to know your business.

Through Melinda's narrative we see how she is perceived and treated by everyone from her former BFF, to her teachers, to her parents. Many of the students she comes in contact with treat her as if she's a leper. There are a few that are either oblivious to what happened at the party, don't care or don't believe the rumors about Melinda. But even those few students that talk to her are not close with her. Melinda holds herself apart, afraid too much interaction could lead to the potential for making a mistake. The adults want to help but are at a loss as to how. They don't know what's wrong so they don't know what steps to take to help. Melinda's inner thoughts when dealing with the adults are at times humorous and insightful. Anderson gets you into the head of a teenager with stunning accuracy.

There were times while reading when I wanted to say to Melinda, "Be mad, be angry. You have every right to be pissed off!" But she didn't. She wasn't ready. I think how Melinda is portrayed as this teenager who continues to withdraw, continues to spend more time alone, away from the school society is very realistic. It's a coping mechanism, that withdrawal into yourself. The desperate need to find somewhere safe after you've been shown it's not safe out there. Wherever there might be.

Melinda is smart and brave and so lost. She doesn't speak because she's afraid she'll say the wrong thing so she keeps quiet. She wants to speak, she wants to respond but she can't bring herself to take that chance. One thing about Melinda that for me, showed her strength was her ability to find the good and the humor in life. Even through the rough times in school with the teasing and ridicule she does maintain this quirky sense of humor. Even when she knows someone is about to hurt her feelings she tries to justify their actions. You see her wanting sometimes so desperately to have a friend. She will do just about anything to have just one friend. It's heartbreaking what she goes through before she can Speak.

Throughout the story there is the symbolism of a tree. Melinda is assigned an art project that involves trees. As we see Melinda's progress on the art project we also see her own inner progress on what happened at the party and how she must eventually face it.

I do wish it had been longer and showed more of Melinda's relationship with her parents. There is also the dialogue which was written in a format that might prove to be a bit jarring for some readers.


Dad: "It's supposed to be soup."


Dad: "It tasted a bit watery, so I kept adding thickener. I put in some corn and peas."


Dad: [pulling wallet from his back pocket] "Call for pizza. I'll get rid of this."

It did take me some time to get used to and I can't say I prefer it but the story isn't heavy on dialogue so it wasn't much of an issue for me.

Speak deals with a serious subject and explores how one teen girl reacts and the course her life takes. I found it to be an engrossing story with a likable narrator.

Rating: B+

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

National Banned Books Week ...

As you've all probably heard, this is National Banned Books Week. In looking over the list of books that people have attempted to ban I can't help but think that the reasons given for wanting the books banned are situations, people and beliefs that we find in everyday life. How could banning books that deal with everyday life be good? The answer - it can't. Many of the books on the list are children and young adult books. Do I think every child should read any and all books out there? No. That should be up to the parents/guardians of the child. If there is a book your child wants to read but you don't want them reading, discuss why with your child. You might be surprised at the direction the discussion takes. You might find out thing about your child and yourself that you didn't know. And you might end up reading the book along with your child. Knowledge is power.

I've read a number of books on the various lists. Some of the books were even for school ~Slaughterhouse Five, Catcher in the Rye, Fahrenheit 451 and Of Mice and Men are ones I remember reading for school assignments. Judy Blume is on the list many times - is there any Blume book that hasn't been challenged? She was one of my very favorite authors when I was a kid. From the time I was very young to my teen years, I loved her books.

Last year for Nath's Reread Challenge I read Judy Blume's Forever. It was a book that I remember reading as a young teen and gave me much to think about at the time. It has stayed with me these many years later and is still a book I would recommend.

What banned books have you read and enjoyed? Did you read any because they had been banned or challenge? I'm almost finished reading Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak which was a hot topic last week in the blogging community. It made me curious to find out what this story was about.

Monday, September 27, 2010

DIK Review: All The Queen's Men

All The Queen's Men
Linda Howard
Romantic Suspense
Pocket/August 1999

From the back cover ~

The Past Proved Deadly. . .

No one knows the dangers of getting close to legendary CIA Black Ops specialist John Medina better than communications expert Niema Burdock. Five years ago, she and her husband worked with Medina on an explosive mission that ended in tragedy. Although she has slowly recovered from her terrible loss, Niema planned never to see Medina again. Until now.

History Is About To Repeat Itself. . .

A French arms dealer is supplying international terrorists, and only Niema can plant the bugs needed to crack the deadly ring. Against her best instincts, she infiltrates the dealer's glamorous world. But when the plan goes awry, Niema and Medina must take flight in a strnage land - and soon find their partnership sparked by an erotic charge. In a world of deception, John Medina has once again set Niema on a free fall into danger. . . and into desire like she's never known.

I consider myself a fan of Linda Howard, although if I had to pick favorites it would be her older titles like Duncan's Bride, MacKenzie's Mountain or Son of the Morning. I decided to read All The Queen's Men because I read and enjoyed Kiss Me While I Sleep which it's loosely related to and because it's a Howard that's been on my tbr pile too long.

The story starts off with a flashback of when Niema and John Medina worked together years ago and when the tragic event occurred that shattered Niema's world. I couldn't help but feel sorry for Niema, it's a very emotional scene. But it's also a risky business that both she and her husband worked in so it's not completely surprising that at some point those risks catch up to them.

Niema Burdock is slowly putting her life back together. She's constructed this safe little world around her and doesn't like to deviate from the routine. Niema deals with her guilt and her grief by closing herself off from any potentially close relationships. She works hard but doesn't seem to enjoy much in life. I do think her portrayal was realistic because she seemed to be stuck, afraid to move forward and chance losing someone she cares about. Then John Medina comes back into her life and she has to make decisions that will cause her to move forward rather than stagnant in the safe little world she has created.

John Medina has a reputation in the spy community but no one really knows who he is. He's very much in control and dedicated to the job. He's smart and lethal and his only real weakness is Niema. He's conflicted when it comes to her. He's very clear in how he feels about her but refuses to act on those feelings, giving her plenty of time to grieve. I liked how John dealt with once again working with Niema - balancing the job and their growing relationship.

Niema and John together made for some serious tension. Niema is certain there is no way she will become intimate with John. John is certain they will. Ha! What they will do for the mission and playing their part turns out to possibly be more than what even the government might ask of them. But this is a romance so it's not completely surprising that there's sex on the job. :)

There were some parts that stretched my beliefs and reminded me that this is fiction because it wouldn't be believable if it were real life. The antagonist has some interesting and questionable motives and I did like the interactions between Niema and Ronsard. There are some steamy sex scenes and at one point I did have to roll my eyes at the outcome, stretching my imagination again to make it fit the plot.

Overall, All The Queen's Men was an entertaining romantic suspense written with plenty of tension and intrigue. If I had to test the limits of believability a few times, it was worth it for the satisfying read.

Rating: B

Access Romance Day...

Hey there! Today's my day over at Access Romance Readers Gab so come on over and let me know what you think about book review grades. How much importance to you put on review grades? Do you find it easy to give grades? Do you prefer stars, numbers, letters or maybe cookies? The chewy chocolate chip kind. ; ) Come on over and let us know!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Review: My Lord Jack

My Lord Jack
Hope Tarr

Historical Romance/Scotland/1793

Carina Press/July 2010

Received from Carina Press/NetGalley

From the publisher's website ~

Former French courtesan Claudia Valemont can't believe her life has come to this: standing in front of a Scottish judge, sentenced to death for stealing a horse. She fled France to find her father and escape the hangman's noose. Now here she is, facing the same fate—alone, desperate and penniless.

"Hold! I will speak for her."

Burly Scottish hangman Jack Campbell takes pride in his work: serving justice and giving the condemned a quick end to their sorry lives. Why he spoke for that pale, hollow-eyed Frenchwoman he'll never know. But now he's stuck with her—assigned to be her keeper for six months' indenture.

Bound together by the rules of her sentence, Jack and Claudia learn to appreciate their differences. But as their wary affection turns to tender desire, secrets from the past appear and threaten to destroy their future...

I don't think I've ever read a romance where the hero was a hangman. What's even more strange is that Jack takes pride in his work but he's not malicious or mean. He's actually kind and considerate of others. It was a very odd combination and one I found intriguing. Claudia, well, she's a different story. She's accustomed to wealth and privilege and everything the city of Paris has to offer. I didn't care for her at the beginning and by the end of the story, I still didn't care much for her.

Claudia Valemont is the former mistress of a French aristocrat. Her life has taken a dramatic turn and she finds herself fleeing France for the lowlands of Scotland. She's not only trying to save her life from the wrath of the French mobs but she's on a quest to find her father. He's a nobleman, an earl, whom she hopes will welcome her into his life. I never got why she thought that since he didn't make any attempts to stay in touch with her or find her for that matter. Claudia's luck finally changes when she is given a reprieve from being hanged, which was good since she gives up way too easily. Jack steps in and comes to her defense. I think part of why he did it has to do with Jack being a fair man. The other part is due to Claudia being a woman and Jack wanting to rescue her. He just got more than he bargained for.

Jack Campbell is far from a typical romance hero. His life hasn't been easy, he grew up a bastard in a home that no one would call happy. His chosen profession doesn't exactly win him friends. People, even good, law-abiding people, tend to keep their distance from the hangman. But Jack is an easy to like guy. He's a smart, decent man who's good looks catch Claudia's eye. At first Jack seems fairly straight forward. He's the local hangman who does his job well but he doesn't brag about what he does. It is what it is. Jack has some very specific ideas about what he wants to do with his life and those thoughts are what drives him to keep his distance from Claudia. I did like that Jack kept to his principles, at least for a little while. Claudia can be very pushy when she wants something.

The romance was okay. Jack and Claudia are stuck together and forced to spend time together. Claudia's talkative where Jack tends to think about what he says before uttering a sound. They are certainly an odd pair and sometimes opposites attract and work well. Unfortunately, I never really felt that chemistry between these two. They came off as too dissimilar to be believable when the did fall in love.

As Claudia and Jack get to know each other they both find that first impressions are not always accurate. Claudia isn't use to hard work but she is willing to try her hand working at the local inn. Jack, it turns out can read and actually enjoys it. There are other elements that they discover about each other, most through Claudia asking question after question. She was very inquisitive and not shy about asking personal questions. Jack, shy one with little experience with women, preferred to keep to himself.

The story started out with potential, the uncommon hero hangman, the former mistress on the run. I did like when Jack was learning how to live with a women in his small home. He was sweet and ended up teaching Claudia, the experienced woman, a few things about how a woman should be treated. The story started to drag when Jack and Claudia leave the small village and head into the city. It's there that Claudia begins to have a few too many moments of poor judgment and I had a hard time seeing why Jack continued to put up with her.

The story line of Claudia finding her father took an odd turn with wicked henchmen and imprisonments. I didn't find it as enjoyable as when Jack and Claudia were together without the external problems. I did think Jack made for an appealing hero, I just wish his heroine had been a better match. I do think My Lord Jack could work for some, I would have preferred a stronger heroine who would needed less saving and gave more thought to her actions.

Rating: C+

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Treachery In Death Blurb...

Maybe I've been under a rock but didn't know this blurb was even out there yet. The next In Death release, Indulgence In Death, comes out November 2. Then there's the novella, Possession in Death, in the anthology The Other Side, release November 30. Then we only have to wait until February for the next In Death release! We are going to be rolling in Eve and Roarke goodness! Treachery In Death is set for release, per Amazon, February 22, 2011.

*Possible Spoilers for previous books*

In the latest from the #1 New York Times bestselling phenomenon, Eve Dallas tracks down those who break the law-including the ones sworn to uphold it.

Detective Eve Dallas and her partner, Peabody, are following up on a senseless crime-an elderly grocery owner killed by three stoned punks for nothing more than kicks and snacks. This is Peabody's first case as primary detective-good thing she learned from the master.

But Peabody soon stumbles upon a trickier situation. After a hard workout, she's all alone in the locker room when the gym door clatters open; and-while hiding inside a shower stall trying not to make a sound-she overhears two fellow officers, Garnet and Oberman, arguing. It doesn't take long to realize they're both crooked-guilty not just of corruption but of murder. Now Peabody, Eve, and Eve's husband, Roarke, are trying to get the hard evidence they need to bring the dirty cops down-knowing all the while that the two are willing to kill to keep their secret.

Oh, and I should mention we'll also be getting the last book in Nora Roberts Bride Quartet - Happy Ever After, (November 2). It's Parker and Mal's story and I can't wait to read it. I'll be sad to see the series end.

J. D Robb website
Nora Roberts website

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review: Bayou Moon

Bayou Moon
Ilona Andrews

Fantasy Romance

The Edge/Book 2

ACE/October 2010

Received from Publisher

From the back cover ~

The Edge lies between worlds, on the border between the Broken, where people shop at Wal-Mart and magic is a fairy tale - and the Weird, where blueblood aristocrats rule, changelings roam, and the strength of your magic can change your destiny. . .

Cerise Mar and her unruly clan are cash poor but land rich, claiming a large swath of the Mire, the Edge swamplands between the state of Louisiana and the Weird. When her parents vanish, her clan's long-time rivals are suspect number one.

But all is not as it seems. Two nations of the Weird are waging a cold war fought by feint and espionage, and their conflict is about to spill over in to the Edge - and Cerise's life. William, a changeling soldier who'd left behind the politics of the Weird, has been forced back into service to track down a rival nation's spymaster.

When William's and Cerise's missions lead them to cross paths, sparks fly - but they'll have to work together if they want to succeed. . . and survive.

William is back! After reading about William in On the Edge, I was thrilled to find out the next book in the series would be his. As Bayou Moon begins, it's been two years since the ending of On the Edge. Rose, Declan and the boys have moved to the Weird. William stayed behind in the Edge and works in the Broken. If you didn't read On the Edge, then that might not make sense to you but that's okay because Andrews does a good job filling in any blanks. There's no info dump, instead the history and back story are woven in as needed. I do recommend reading On the Edge, it's very good, but not necessary to read before Bayou Moon.

William Wolf is all alone - drinking. Something he does often. That's never a good sign. Throw in talking to comic book action figures and you've got yourself one sad, lonely hero. What William needs is a quest, a crusade, a mission. Anything to get him off his ass and stop feeling sorry for himself. Well, he's about to get one. William is a former elite soldier and his unique services are needed by The Mirror, a spec ops/CIA type group from the Weird. A horror from the past is about to revisit William and pull him into the Edge and into the middle of a long standing feud.

Cerise Mar is having a crappy day. She had to trek through the mud, hunting down an escaped rolpie - cute beasties, part seal, part otter, who pull the boats throughout the swamp of the Mire. The Mire is the place in the Edge where Cerise and her family live. Once Cerise gets the rolpie back to the Rathole, her family home, she's met with some disturbing news. Her parents are late getting home and it's up to Cerise to find them.

Cerise comes from a very eclectic family with a lot of relatives who wield a variety of magic. She's very aware of her role in the family and with her parents missing, it's up to her to take the lead. Cerise is a reluctant heroine. She knows what she needs to do and does it but she really longs for a little less responsibility and a more stable life. She's smart and can kick some serious ass as well as extremely loyal to her family. She would do anything for them. I can definitely say she's right up there with Kate Daniels and Mercy Thompson as one of my favorite heroines. After Cerise learns what has happened to her parents she must travel to the Broken. It's there where she runs into William, "Lord Leather Pants" or "Lord Bill" as she dubs him. Cerise is not impressed, yet.

William doesn't like the swamp or the Mire. He doesn't understand the odd people he meets there. And oh, boy are they odd. I loved how William, with his smart ass humor dealt with the oddities that came from the Mire. One of the first oddities he encounters is Cerise. They clash from the start but must work together to get away from the enemies hunting them. William and Cerise go from irritation to respect as they get to know each other. Cerise is one kick-ass heroine, she didn't let William take over when they found themselves fighting their mutual enemies. She did appreciate his knowledge of the enemy, she's not a fool and will take help when she needs it. William can't help but find Cerise interesting and so finds himself pulled deeper and deeper into her family and their problems.

The relationships throughout the story are well developed and give plenty of character insight. William didn't grow up in a family environment and isn't always sure how to take the teasing and banter of the large Mars family. Instead of making him feel like an outsider, they pull him in, treating him like one of them. It was such a novel experience for William. I loved how we got to see him come to care about this special family and become part of it.

The common enemy that William and Cerise are fighting is a nasty bastard with a bunch of equally nasty minions. Spider is an altered human from the Weird. He and his little army of alters are after something that could change how wars in the Weird are fought. It's up to Cerise and William to make sure Spider doesn't get what he wants. They come up against some seriously freaky opponents with truly repulsive alterations. Andrews can write some amazing fight scenes. You feel like you're in the battle, on the edge of your seat, not always sure who might survive this round. There is quite a bit of action, blood and gore in the story. And sometimes things were just plain gross. I loved it!

Talking about action, there is a romance between William and Cerise. It's not an in your face romance, they have a lot going on with fighting, plotting and planning their next move. It's more a romance of quick looks and lingering touches. Of stolen moments and time together. Neither one is quite sure what to make of the other or of their attraction. I found the dialogue between the two to be amusing and clever. They start off with smart ass insults, progressing to grudging respect and finally falling in love. In the end, it's a very sweet, genuine romance that leaves you believing these two were meant to be.

I mentioned that Cerise has a large, extended family and Spider, aka nasty bastard, has a number of minions, leaving a lot of characters to keep track of. Some of the names are unique and I did find myself having to do a little re-reading to help with the who's who. Also, at one point there is mention of the real possibility of a traitor, then it's not mentioned for a very long time. I kept wondering when it would be brought up again, since it seemed very important.

Bayou Moon is a wonderful addition to The Edge series. It has fascinating characters, interesting story line and some seriously wicked action. A book that will keep you reading long into the night. I highly recommend both The Edge and the Kate Daniels series by the talented writing duo that make up Ilona Andrews.

Rating: A

Books in the series:

On the Edge (review)
Bayou Moon ~ Official release date ~ September 28

Monday, September 20, 2010

Review: Sunrise Over Texas

Sunrise Over Texas
MJ Frederick

Western Historical Romance/Texas/1826

Carina Press/September 2010

Received from Carina Press/NetGalley

From the publisher's website ~

Texas Frontier, 1826

Kit Barclay followed her husband into the wilds of Texas only to be widowed. Stranded with her mother- and sister-in-law to care for, with no hope of rescue before winter sets in, Kit has only one goal: survival. So when a lone horseman appears on the horizon, and then falls from his mount in fever, Kit must weigh the safety of her family against offering aid and shelter to the handsome stranger.

Trace Watson has lost everything that ever mattered to him. Trying to forget, he heads to the frontier colony of San Felipe, not caring if he lives or dies. But when he wakes to discover he's being nursed back to health by a brave young widow, he vows to repay her kindness by guiding the three women back to civilization, no matter what the cost.

Soon, Kit and Trace are fighting the elements, Indian attacks and outlaws—as well as feelings they both thought were long buried. . .

Historical westerns are not as common as they used to be but to have one set in Pre-Civil War America is even more rare. I loved the fact that this is set in 1826. This is a rustic frontier where people were scattered far and wide. Where women were few and the land was a harsh and dangerous place. Fredrick doesn't sugar coat the hardships that are faced on the frontier. Nor does she downplay the importance of the will to survive. It's that will to survive that gets Kit and Trace through some of the most difficult times of their lives.

Katherine "Kit" Barclay is barely surviving. She's stuck at Fort Dryden with only her mother-in-law and sister-in-law for company. The responsibility for their welfare has fallen to her. It's been a rough time since Kit left her home in Louisiana for the Texas frontier. Her husband is dead and now she and her in-laws are running out of food and in real danger of dying. I liked Kit right off. I liked her quiet strength, her intelligence and her compassion. When she rescues Trace, all she wants is to get him healthy and on his way. There are no others at the fort and Trace makes her nervous. Trace has other ideas. He can't leave the women alone at the fort and he knows their only chance of survival is to make it to San Felipe.

Oh, Trace. He is such a tortured hero. He's lost the people that meant the most to him and he's still grieving when he arrives at the remote fort. He's running from his memories and runs right into Kit. Trace is sick with a fever when he arrives at the fort. He barely makes it and needs Kit's help. Trace is what I'd like to think of as a frontier gentleman. He's kind, courteous but he's also alpha enough to take charge when he needs to. When it came to Kit, he knew he had to get her to leave the fort but he didn't just order her to go. He talked to her, yes, talked to her and by talking with Kit, Trace understood why Kit didn't want to leave. He treated her like the intelligent woman she was and used logic and reason to get her to go to San Felipe.

Kit and Trace's relationship wasn't rushed in that they began sharing little bits and pieces of themselves, allowing each other to get to know them. Sunrise Over Texas isn't a long book, 194 pages, and still the way their relationship developed it felt solid - with both Trace and Kit having a say in the decisions. Neither is used to the frontier, they are both from New Orleans, but they learn how to survive together. Their is one scene when they are under attack and it turns out that Kit is the better shot. I liked that Trace wasn't this perfect frontier man and Kit could teach him a thing or two. :)

The journey to the colony of San Felipe is a hard one and tests both Kit and Trace. It doesn't help that Kit's in-laws are even less accustomed to frontier life and have to be pushed to do their share. Agnes, Kit's mother-in-law disapproves of how close Kit and Trace have gotten and Mary, Kit's sister-in-law is a teenager who admires Kit but had very little survival instincts. Seriously, Kit put up with a lot of crap from these two. They tried Trace's patience too. Once they get to the settlement, they have to make some very tough decisions. This is where we see how loyal and compassionate Kit is. And how much Trace loves Kit. I was surprised at the turn the story took but think the author handled it well.

Towards the end, there is a misunderstanding that both Trace and Kit have to get past which seemed a little too contrived. After everything they had been through, trust shouldn't have been an issue. It was just a little bump in the story and didn't take away from the enjoyment of a romance about two people who overcome their suffering and find love again. If you're looking for a western romance with a frontier setting, this is it.

Rating: A-

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour

Amy & Rogers Epic Detour
Morgan Matson

Young Adult Contemporary

Simon & Schuster/May 2010

Library Book

You might have noticed that I didn't post the usual back cover blurb, or in this case, inside cover blurb. I was going to but after reading it, I felt it gave away too much of the story. It's a road trip book and if you've ever been on a road trip, much of the fun comes from not always knowing where you might stop along the way. So I've placed the blurb at the end of the review.

I first heard about Amy & Roger's Epic Detour when Nath reviewed it. She heard about it from Ames so a big shout out to both of these ladies for recommending it. :)

This is probably one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time. From the start I loved Amy's voice. Her observations of the people around her are funny and telling. She's going through some serious stuff, dealing with her dad's death just three months ago. She's been alone for the last month in her house that's for sale. Her mother has already moved and is waiting for Amy to finish up her junior year in high school and then she'll being joining her mother in Connecticut. It's not enough that Amy must leave everything that's familiar and move across the country, now her mother has arranged for Amy to bring the car, with Roger, a guy she knew when she was a kid, driving it.

Road trips can be a lot of fun with the right people. But with someone you don't know and you're at a really low point in your life, it can suck. Amy does get lucky and Roger isn't a loser, or smelly or tell bad jokes or sing off key. It turns out he's a nice guy. A little shy but so is she, at least when they first meet. The trip starts off with Amy's mother planning an itinerary that allows no time for sightseeing or detours. Roger has another suggestion - a few detours here, places more interesting than what Amy's mom had in mind. Amy agrees as long as they get to Connecticut in four days. Amy has her reasons for agreeing and they have a lot to do with her parents.

The stops along the way bring back memories and some sadness but also a feeling of completeness for both Amy and Roger. I loved reading about where they ate. Amy is a big fan of diners and Roger is a fast food fan. The diners are specific to that area but the fast food - they had me craving In-N-Out (love their shakes), Chick-fil-A (chicken sandwiches are the best!) and something called crumbly hamburgers from a place called NuWay in Wichita, Kansas. I'm very curious about the crumbly. They also had me looking at maps, trying to figure out a quick road trip that the family could do on a long weekend. Utah has potential. :)

I have to mention the visuals in this book. Yep, there's pictures! LOL Pictures of Roger's playlist, receipts for all the food they ate, pictures of where they had been. I loved it all! It really gave the book that personal touch, as if you were reading their travel diary.

Then there is the story of Amy and Roger. How they got to know each other over the course of the trip. How they came to understand each other and themselves. How Amy learned that people can come into your life and make a big impact in a very short time. The secondary characters are all so very entertaining and well developed considering the short time they're on the page. And the story itself was funny. There were some sad scenes when Amy thinks of her father and when Roger confronts someone who has hurt him. But I also found myself laughing, grinning and snickering. It was charming to see how Amy and Roger got to know each other and came to care about each other. It was a different environment, being stuck in a car with someone. Certainly a learning environment. Neither of them are perfect, they both made mistakes along the way but the important part was that they learned from their mistakes.

If you want to read a fun, amusing and insightful story I would definitely recommend taking a journey with Amy & Roger.

Rating: A+

From the inside cover ~

When you're on a road trip, life is all about the detours. . .

Amy Curry is having a terrible year. Her mother has decided to move across the country and needs Amy to get their car from California to Connecticut. There's just one small problem. Since her dad died this past spring, Amy hasn't been able to get behind the wheel. Enter Roger, the nineteen-year-old son of an old family friend, who turns out to be unexpectedly cute. . . and dealing with some baggage of his own.

Meeting new people and coming to terms with her father's death were not what Amy had planned on this trip. And traveling the Loneliest Road in America, seeing the Colorado mountains, crossing the Kansas plains, and visiting diners, dingy motels, and Graceland were definitely not on the itinerary. But as they drive, Amy finds that the people you lest expected are the ones you may need the most - and that sometimes you have to get lost in order to find your way home.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

TBR Challenge Review: Dreamfever

Karen Marie Moning

Urban Fantasy

Fever/Book 4

Delacorte Press/August 2009


*Spoilers for Books 1-3*
*Highly Recommend Reading In Order*

From the author's website ~

MacKayla Lane lies naked on the cold stone floor of a church, at the mercy of the erotic Fae master she once swore to kill. Far from home, unable to control her sexual hungers, MacKayla is now fully under the Lord Master's spell. In the New York Times bestselling author Karen Marie Moning's stunning new novel, the walls between human and Fae worlds have come crashing down. And as Mac fights for survival on Dublin's battle-scarred streets, she will embark on the darkest-and most erotically charged-adventure of her life.

He has stolen her past, but MacKayla will never allow her sister's murderer to take her future. Yet even the uniquely gifted sidhe-seer is no match for the Lord Master, who has unleashed an insatiable sexual craving that consumes Mac's every thought-and thrusts her into the seductive realm of two very dangerous men, both of whom she desires but dares not trust.

As the enigmatic Jericho Barrons and the sensual Fae prince V'lane vie for her body and soul, as she rallies the sidhe-seers to fight an impossible battle, and the power of the Dark Book weaves its annihilating path through the city, Mac's greatest enemy delivers a final challenge...

It's an invitation Mac cannot refuse, one that sends her racing home to Georgia, where an even darker threat awaits. With her parents missing and the lives of her loved ones under siege, Mac is about to come face-to-face with a soul-shattering truth-about herself, and about the world she thought she knew.

I was going to try and hold off reading Dreamfever until just before Shadowfever's release in January but after reading the latest excerpt of Shadowfever I caved. I bought it shortly after it's release so it certainly hasn't been on my tbr pile that long but it was calling to me and you must go with the book that calls. I'm glad I picked this one because I had forgotten how much I enjoy the world of Mac's Ireland.

The way Faefever left off was horrible and a hell of a cliffhanger. Well, Moning must love cliffhangers because I'll warn you right now, Dreamfever has one too. And I'm surprisingly okay with that. It gave me a whole bunch of stuff for speculating. I even found myself at Moning's message board looking for any clues as to what happened and what might happen in Shadowfever. Yeah, nobody knows, it's all just speculating. It's kind of fun but then it starts getting really hard to follow, the speculating that is, because there are so many possibilities and so much to remember. All those little things that may seem insignificant at the time might have a hidden meaning, or they just might mean exactly what they say. It can really twist your mind up in knots trying to figure it all out.

Dreamfever picks up where Faefever left off - in the church where Mac has been horribly used, abused and raped. Many fans of the series had a hard time with this and it's understandable when a character that we have come to know and care about goes through such a devastating experience. The intensity is fierce and Mac is so not herself. She's become something different altogether. It was hard seeing her become this thing not of her own mind. Do I think it was necessary for the story arc? That's a hard call. When we consider what has happened, in public, with V'lane it's mild compared to what happens to her at the hands of the Fae Princes. V'lane could have turned Mac Pri-ya but for his own reasons he chose not to. Do I think Mac had to hit bottom, this very bottom of loosing herself to make the story that much stronger? Because, really, that's the only reason I can come up with for turning Mac Pri-ya - to make the story, and Mac, stronger. I don't think rape was the answer but that's the way Moning went so I'll just deal with it.

Since Mac is not herself, Dani, who I abso-freaking-lootly adore, takes over narration duties until Mac is, well, Mac again. I like Mac's voice but it was a treat to hear Dani in her very unique Irish teenager 'Fecking A' lingo. She gives her own twist on events and we get to know her better. Dani has a boatload of responsibilities but she's still a teenager with the exuberance of a teen. The idea of her own invincibility is strong in Dani. It's also how she feels about Mac. She's come to rely on Mac and seeing what has happen to Mac shakes Dani, scares her even which is saying something.

Mac's road to recovery is a long, hard one. *rolls eyes* no comments from the peanut gallery 'kay? After Mac is Mac again, more or less, she begins the hunt for the Sinsar Dubh and trying to take back some of Dublin. It's hell out there and the Unseelie are taking advantage of their release into the human realm. There is a lot going on but Moning keeps it on track and once again gives the reader more information on the various players in the search for the Sinsar Dubh. We also get more what I call "potential information if we only knew what it meant" information. Anyone who's read this series knows how for everything you think you know, there's at least two or more things you don't know. Honestly, Shadowfever has a huge responsibility when it comes to tying up all the lose ends and answering the fans number one questions - What the hell is Barrons?

*Just had a very weird experience - while writing this review I'm listen to the radio, oldies station and the Stones "She's a Rainbow" just came on. (cue spooky music)

Dreamfever is another well written, edge of your seat, what the hell just happened addition to the series. I'm not sure how Moning keeps everything straight, serious, serious notes would be my guess. I'm not so patiently waiting for Shadowfever, release date January 18, 2011. It's suppose to be 624 pages, per Amazon. I just hope it's enough!

Rating: B+

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

ARC Review: Mob Rules

Mob Rules
Cameron Haley
Urban Fantasy

Underworld Cycle/Book 1
Luna/September 2010

Received from Luna/NetGalley

From the author's website ~

As LA plunges into an occult gang war, mob sorceress Domino Riley must unravel a conspiracy that reaches beyond the magic-soaked mean streets into a world of myth and legend.

Domino investigates the ritual execution of a mob associate, a graffiti magician named Jamal. The kid isn’t just dead, he’s been squeezed — the killer stole his magical power or “juice.” Domino summons Jamal’s shade, and the ghost points to Adan Rashan as his killer. This is tricky, because Adan is the favored son of Domino’s boss, Shanar Rashan, a six-thousand-year-old Sumerian wizard. It’s even trickier because only a mobbed-up sorcerer could have squeezed Jamal and Adan isn’t a sorcerer.

As the corpses pile up, Domino must confront the killer and unmask an otherworldly kingpin with designs on her gang’s magic-rich turf.

MOB RULES is an urban fantasy novel of murder and magic, betrayal and redemption set in the supernatural underworld of Los Angeles.

The opening of Mob Rules is in your face gruesome and combined with dark humor gets the story of Dominica (Domino) Riley off to a quick start. This is LA but not the one we're familiar with. This is an LA run by what are called "outfits" which are a lot like present day mafia. They each control different sections of the city and for the most part get along. Each outfit is headed by a powerful sorcerer. Domino's boss, Shanar Rashan, is thought to be one of the more powerful sorcerers and he's the one that trained Domino.

Domino a sorcerer and uses her powers for good - okay, not really. She uses her powers for the outfit, making sure everything runs smoothly. The way Domino describes herself and her work is a "fixer". When it comes to magic she's one of the more powerful members of the outfit. She's got a spell for just about everything. Which is good since she uses her magic a lot. She gets called to fix the more serious things like when one of the outfit members is skinned. Yep, he's found skinned. Domino has to figure out who did it and why. She's able to read/sense the magic from objects and she uses that ability to help her investigate the murder. It's a intricate world of magic Dominic inhabits and there were times when it felt a little too crowded. Keeping track of the members of Dominic's outfit, add in those of the other outfits plus creatures from the Between and it got a little confusing.

Domino is a woman but there are times when it's easy to forget that fact. She acts more like a man through much of the book. When she's with Adan, her potential boyfriend, it's then she comes across as a female but when she's working, it's hard to tell she's female. I think I would have liked her more and possibly connected with her better if she had shown her more feminine side a bit more. I do understand why she had to be tough and sometimes cold when dealing with the men of the outfits but a few more reminders here and there of her gender would have been good.

Piskies, werewolves, vampires, a jinn in a TV - there are a lot of different beings in Domino's world and she seems to run into them all at one point or another. The story took an odd turn when Domino went into the Between. It's this other world where places and things are similar to Domino's world but with a shadowy effect. It has this eerie quality to it that gives it a distorted feel. Like you can't believe everything you see. Domino finds this out when she tries to battle a vampire and her powers don't work the same way they do in her world. I did like how the two worlds meshed together and hope we see more of the Between in the next book.

There is a romance of sorts. It's minimal and Domino does show a tender side when with Adan but she's still a lieutenant in the outfit with a lot of responsibilities. Her job is never far from her thoughts and along with the job, there is a lot of stress. If you're hoping for romance, this is UF with the romance being a minor part of the story.

Overall, I liked certain parts of Mob Rules. I think Domino as a heroine is interesting and certainly different from the usual UF heroines. I do think there was too much going on at times and hope the next book is more streamlined. Mob Rules is the first book in a series so there is a lot of world building and there is potential for a solid series. The author Cameron Haley has written a prequel novella, Retribution, releasing October 1 in the anthology Harvest Moon with Mercedes Lackey and Michelle Sagara. If you like a lot of magic and violence then this could work for you.

Rating: B-

Monday, September 13, 2010

Review: Mockingjay

Suzanne Collins

Young Adult Fantasy

Hunger Games trilogy/Book 3

Scholastic Press/August 2010


*Spoilers for Books 1 & 2*

From the inside cover ~



Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss's family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to over throw the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans - except Katniss.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels' Mockingjay - no matter what the personal cost.

Mockingjay is not a book for the faint of heart. It's very graphic in it's description of the tortures and deaths. But war is bloody, it is gruesome. Do I think Mockingjay is too graphic? At times, yes. Is it any more graphic than The Hunger Games or Catching Fire? No. But it's graphic in a different, more disturbing way. In the first two books, the majority of violence - most is against children, is done for survival. In Mockingjay, the violence, again much done against children, is not always done for survival but for intimidation, demonstration of power, information and revenge. And sometimes simply - Because. They. Can.

Dark, bleak with little happiness or humor. I kept thinking we would get that euphoric moment, that sweet smell of victory but it never came. Everything kept getting darker and darker until you can't see any light at the end. It's been snuffed out.

Towards the end, the color seemed to leach out of the story. It's as if Katniss' weariness was showing to the point that routine had taken over, her fire was gone, extinguished. To come so far and have it all just fade away. The epilogue was like a fairy tale ending tacked on to a war story. The two didn't fit. There was no sense of victory for Katniss. She had lost so much, any victory she had seemed hollow. The epilogue was, I believe, there to give hope but it felt a little too shaped to fit a neat a tidy ending. All the strings tied in bows but those bows seemed to have the shine worn off them, drooping a little.

I enjoyed parts of Mockingjay, but compared to The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, the enjoyment was less. Do I think it fair to compare the three? Of course. They are all parts of the whole and while the writing was emotional and well done the impact of Mockingjay was easier to shake off than that of The Hunger Games and to a lesser extent, Catching Fire. There are scenes in Mockingjay that do stay with me. Violent scenes. Emotional scenes. But very few uplifting scenes. There were some interactions between Katniss and a few of the characters that had me smiling but they were fleeting and few.

Wow - it sounds like I didn't like it at all, which isn't true. I did like seeing the characters I had come to know and care about. I did like, and still do like, Collins' writing. She has a very evocative way of painting a scene, of giving voice to emotions. I liked learning more about the politics of the world Collins has created. I do think my enjoyment of the story would have been less had I not already come to care about these characters. The main problem, and why this wasn't an A read for me was the diminishing lack of hope. And the expectations I had for this final book of the trilogy - oh, boy, those reader expectation can really bite us in the ass can't they? I was hoping/expecting something more along the lines of the ending of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King or Star Wars. That feeling of triumph and hope. Big and out there for the world to see. Instead, Mockingjay was far more subdued and went out with a feeling of quiet solitude.

Rating: B

My Reviews ~
The Hunger Games
Catching Fire

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Review: Wicked Intentions

Wicked Intentions
Elizabeth Hoyt
Historical Romance/London 1737

Maiden Lane/Book 1

Grand Central Publishing/August 2010

Goodreads First Reads

From the back cover ~


Infamous for his wild, sensual needs, Lazarus Huntington, Lord Caire, is searching for a savage killer in St. Giles, London's most notorious slum. Widowed Temperance Dews knows the area like the back of her hand—she cares for its children at the foundling home her family established. Now that home is at risk…


Caire makes a simple offer—in return for Temperance's help navigating the perilous alleys of St. Giles, he will introduce her to high society so that she can find a benefactor for the home. But Temperance may not be the innocent she seems, and what begins as a cold bargain soon falls prey to a passion neither can control—and may well destroy them both.

Elizabeth Hoyt's first book in her new series was a joy to read. Let me tell you about Temperance and Caire and Hoyt's ability to create some of the most vivid and fascinating characters with an equally imaginative plot. And the secondary characters - I'm having a hard time picking whose book I want next. Which doesn't really matter since Ms. Hoyt has already picked the character and hey, it's one that was on my list. :)

And I must also tell you about King Lockedheart. And Meg, who proves to be smarter than a king. But first, Temperance and Lord Caire, a match not made in heaven but on a dark alley in St. Giles.

Temperance Dews has a kind heart and hates to turn away any child in need. But the children of her orphanage are not the only ones in need. Temperance and her brother, Wilder who teaches, are behind on their rent and are about to be thrown out, along with the over two dozen children living there. Then salvation comes in the for of Lord Caire with a proposition for Temperance. She's desperate and I think, intrigued. She's also aware of at least some of Caire reputation. So with those two things in mind, she take him up on his offer. Temperance is really kidding herself into thinking she only wants the opportunity to find a new benefactor for the home. I think she wants to spend time with Caire and take a walk on that wild side that she's secretly fascinated with.

Lazarus Huntington, or Caire as he is often referred to, is an aristocrat but isn't exactly welcomed into the finest homes in London. I'd said he's more tolerated at best, and feared at worst. He knows it and doesn't really give a damn. Right off I liked his attitude. That "to hell with what they think" when he doesn't really like the they in questions anyway. So why should he care? Caire also has this odd affliction? I'm not sure what to call it and I'm sure it didn't have a name in 1737 but the fact is, he doesn't like to be touched. This most likely stems from his childhood and that he was raised by his nurse, away from his parents. His isolation and a tragedy in his childhood left a profound affect on Caire.

Temperance and Caire together make such a delightful odd couple! They come across as being such opposites but in actuality have quite a bit of things in common. They both have a very high sense of responsibility. Temperance lives in near poverty when really, she could have remarried and left the orphanage but she refuses to give up. Caire doesn't have to find the killer, his life is still more or less the same whether he finds the killer or not. At least, that's how it seems. But Caire does care about others, he just doesn't believe he's capable of caring or loving anyone but we see how, over the course of the book that changes. Temperance isn't of the believe that she can't love but that she's not worthy of love. She has a terrible secret that makes her feel this and affects her relationship with the people who care about her. I liked seeing how both Temperance and Caire helped each other find their own weaknesses and over come them.

If you're familiar with Ms. Hoyt's writing then you'll know she not only gives the reader an emotional love story but she gifts us with a fairytale within the main story. It comes in the form of a few paragraphs at the beginning of each chapter. I'm come to look forward to those little stories, they're like the special topping on a bowl of homemade ice cream. Delicious! This time we learn about King Lockedheart and Meg, a maid in the king's court. Lockedheart thinks he knows everything but Meg proves to him he's not as wise as he thinks and she has something to teach him. It was a sweet fairytale and a treat to read.

There was a lot going on in Wicked Intentions. There is the orphanage's need for funds. Caire's search for a killer. A mysterious "ghost" figure who appears when help is needed. And Temperance's siblings, who have some important side stories that I'd like to read more about. I think the various plots and subplots helped to keep me entertained and not bogged down or bored with any one story line. Without giving anything away, I hope we haven't seen the last of one certain character with questionable motives. He intrigued me. ;)

I was thrilled when I found out that I had won Wicked Intentions from Goodreads First Reads program. This is a wonderful start to a new series. I can't wait to read the next book in the series, Notorious Pleasures, due out February 2011.

Rating: A

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Breaking the Rules Blurb...

Ever since Suzanne Brockmann posted the cover for her next Troubleshooters book, Breaking the Rules (Izzy's story), I've been stalking her site for the blurb. Well, it's still not there so I tried Fantastic Fiction. Nope, not there either. Then I tried the publisher's website and wada ya know? It's there. It's in the Spring 2011 HC catalog, page 9. There's publishing info on Brockmann and the book. For those of you that don't want to download the catalog, I've put the blurb below the cover picture, just in case some of you want to be surprised by who Izzy's heroine is. :)

From Random House Publishing Group Spring 2011 HC ~

Navy SEAL Izzy Zanella and his estranged wife, Eden Gillman, were once very much in love but now can barely stand to speak to each other. But when Eden discovers that her younger brother Ben is being abused by his stepfather, she is set on saving him any way she can - even if that means reconciling with Izzy to prove to a court that they can give better care to the young teenage boy. Just as Izzy and Eden's hearts begin to mend, the makeshift family gets caught up in saving another youth from a crime ring in Las Vegas and ends up with a group of dangerous men on their trail.

So, anyone surprised that it's Eden? I thought it would be when I saw the Vegas background on the cover. I don't remember them being "very much in love". Did they even have time for that? I'll need to do a re-read before next March. I'm wondering how much the other SEALs and TS Inc. characters will be involved. I gotta say, I hope it's not mostly Izzy and Eden because, unless Eden has done some serious growing up, she's going to get on my nerves. But, Brockmann does write some great secondary characters, she really knows how to develop them and make them integral to the plot. I can't think of any of her Troubleshooter novels that didn't have well developed secondary characters that shared the pages with the hero and heroine. Guess we'll just have to wait and see. I know I'll be reading it. :)

ARC Review: Burning Up

Burning Up
Susan Andersen
Contemporary Romance

Harlequin/August 2010

Received from Harlequin/NetGalley

From the author's website ~

She's So Good at Being Bad

Though it’s been years since the infamous Macy O’James stepped foot in Sugarville, Washington, everyone remembers what she supposedly did. The tiny town is still buzzing about her crime and lack of punishment.

Now back to lend her family a hand, Macy vows to hold her head high—especially at her high school reunion. But forget about the hottest man in Sugarville escorting her. Though she and fire chief Gabriel Donovan generate enough sparks to burn down the town, he’s a law-abiding, line-towing straight arrow. So not her type.

But, maybe—just maybe—he could change her mind about that.

This is a fun romance with misunderstood bad girl Macy O'James returning to her hometown. She meets up with an all American hero type - fire chief Donovan. They both feel that instant zing of attraction and both fight it. The story starts with a quick entrance by Macy, giving a first impression that seems to confirm what the gossips all say about her. She's hot, she's fast and she's trouble.

Macy isn't what everyone thinks. Sure, she stars in sexy rock videos but she's really more than a hot chick in a short skirt. She's smart and funny and loves her family very much. It's that love of family that's brought her back to Sugarville. Her cousin, Janna, who's more like a sister, was in a car accident and is now in a leg cast. Janna's had a rough time with her husband leaving her and now the car accident.

So Macy's there to help take care of Janna and her son, Tyler. Janna's parents, Macy's Aunt Lenore and Uncle Bud, are more like parents to Macy than her own. She'd do anything for these people. You can tell coming back to Sugarville is hard for her. It's sad because she's expecting the nasty gossip and the dirty looks and she gets them. She also finds that some people have gotten over the past and moved on. It's the idiots who still live in the past and enjoy giving Macy a hard time that basically ruin her homecoming. I wouldn't say I liked how Macy played into the whole sexy rock video babe. I liked her much better when she shed the bad girl looks and was just Macy - good friend and a sweet person.

Gabe is the new fire chief, who came to Sugarville to get away from the big city of Detroit and the madness of his busy life there as an arson investigator. He's currently living in a boarding house while his home is being built. As it turns out, Macy's Aunt and Uncle run the boarding house. Hello - trouble in the form of a woman that he wants but thinks isn't his type. Gabe can't seem to get away from Macy, and after a while he finds that he doesn't want to. I liked Gabe but wished he hadn't bought into Macy's bad girl rep so quickly. He's an investigator and should have done some investigating first. He does come around and starts to understand why Macy dresses and acts why she does. It pisses him off and he lets her know - I liked that about him.

There are a couple of secondary storylines that round out the book. There have been a number of suspicious fires in the area and Gabe is kept busy not only fighting the fires but trying to find out the cause. Then there's a romance developing between two secondary characters that I really liked and hope they get their own book. They are a pair of opposites on the surface and I liked how Andersen has built their relationship so far.

Macy and Gabe have these preconceived ideas about the other that they need to get over. They can only do that by spending time together. It's more on Macy's part than Gabe's, she's got some serious issues to overcome. Macy is stubborn but she slowly comes around to realizing that it's only the previous mentioned idiots that are holding her past against her.

Burning Up is a sexy and sweet small town romance with interesting secondary characters adding to that small town feel. Gabe was there to help Macy realize that she is important and she is someone that he's proud to be with. Ultimately, it's Macy who changes her portrayal of who she really is and what she wants made for an entertaining and sensitive romance.

Per Ms. Andersen's website, her next new release is scheduled for August 2011. I'm hoping it's the story of one of the wonderful secondary characters found in Burning Up.

Rating: B+

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Resident Evil: Afterlife Trailer

Some of my favorite, just all out fun movies to watch are the Resident Evil movies. The fourth in the franchise, Resident Evil: Afterlife is due out next Friday, the 10th. No Oded Fehr. :( I was sorry when he died in the last one. But, there is Wentworth Miller this time around! The trailer definitely has a Matrix feel to it.

And really, who doesn't want to be Alice when they grow up?!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Review: Catching Fire

Catching Fire
Suzanne Collins
Young Adult/Futuristic
Hunger Games/Book 2
Scholastic Press/September 2009

*Spoilers for Book 1*

From the inside cover ~



Against all odds, Katniss has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and her longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol - a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she's afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her even more is that she's not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol's cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can't prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their lvoe for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.

I bought this shortly after it's release and only read it right before Mockingjay, the final book's release. Part of the reason I held off reading Catching Fire was because of hearing of the cliffhanger ending and the fact that I have a ton of books on the tbr pile. And there's the anticipation/expectation factor. Anticipating what will happen next - it's exciting not knowing. And expectations for the next step in the story arc. Will it go the way I want it to go or will the author take another route? The Hunger Games totally blew me away so I may have been hoping but not expecting Catching Fire to do the same. It's similar in that there is still a threat hanging over Katniss, even with winning the Games. She's wealthy now with a new home and plenty of food for her sister and mother. It seems like things are great but there's a darkness stalking Katniss and it's about to show itself.

The Games are over and Katniss is back in District 12. She's in familiarly territory with her family and friends. The problem is that she doesn't know what to do with herself. She suspects President Snow isn't done with her. He blames her for the troubles he's currently suffering and wants to pass on that suffering to Katniss. You can feel the tension in Katniss, she's waiting for the ax to fall, waiting for Snow's next move. She's also getting ready for the Victory Tour and she's dreading it. I don't think Katniss would have felt so alone if she had either Gale or Peeta by her side but they've both deserted her. You can't help but feel sorry for Katniss and how everything has turned out for her. Which is odd because it could have all turned out so much worse. She and Peeta are both alive but the changes that have happened and those still to come will prove to be just as arduous as the Games themselves.

The whole Victory Tour was hard to read. Katniss and Peeta had to practically relive the deaths of the other Games participants. Every stop on the tour meant the possibility of seeing the family and friends of a dead tribute. If you've read The Hunger Games then it comes as no surprise that the stop at District 11, Rue's district, is an emotional one. Katniss had grown so close to Rue during the games that seeing Rue's family was hard on her. ~

As usual, a special platform has been constructed at the bottom of the stage for the families of the dead tributes. . .

~ On Rue's. . . I'm not prepared for Rue's family. Her parents, whose faces are still fresh with sorrow. Her five younger siblings, who resemble her so closely. The slight builds, the luminous brown eyes. They form a flock of small dark birds.
page 58

Peeta uses his gift of words and tries to ease the sorrow of the families from District 11. It is Katniss who speaks from her heart, as is her habit, stumbling a bit but giving the families of Rue and Thresh something that only she can give. The way Collins writes Katniss' thoughts and dialogue, feels like it comes from Katniss' very soul. The thoughts and feelings of a young women who was thrown into situations that no amount of training could prepare her for.

The rebellion continues to heat up and President Snow has devised a way to show the rebels that the Capitol is where the power is and will not sit by and do nothing. There will be consequences for anyone who defies the Capitol and that puts Katniss and Peeta front and center. It is a dark, sinister and violent world that Collins has created but there does exist traces of hope among the violence and death. We saw it in The Hunger Games and again in Catching Fire. The hope isn't always easy to find and Katniss has her moments of doubt and despair but she does go on. I think sometimes, if you want a meaning or message in these books, that could be one of them. Finding the will to go on when others have given up or when you so desperately want to give up yourself. It's one of the main reasons I love the character of Katniss. She been through hell and she's not done but she continues on. Her years of taking care of her mother and sister have given her that will to go on and not give up.

While I didn't like Catching Fire quite as much as The Hunger Games, it is certainly a worthy addition to the trilogy. It shows the aftermath of what happens when you survive the games, making an enemy of the powerful Capitol in the process. We see how Katniss and Peeta deal with their fame and fortune as well as their guilt and sorrow. I do think this is a trilogy best for the older teens. It is violent and shocking at times and explores some very serious subjects. Collins is a gifted writer who brings out the emotions in her characters, making it an intensely emotional read.

Rating: A-

The Hunger Games (review)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Review: Sureblood

Susan Grant
Science Fiction Romance
Borderlands/Book 3
Harlequin/August 2010
Received from Harlequin/NetGalley

From the author's website ~

Five years ago rival space pirate captains Val Blue and Dake Sureblood stole one incredible night together. But their brief, passionate history ended with the assassination of Val's father and the condemnation of Dake's clan. Now Val struggles to prove her mettle—to herself and to the dissenters amid her own people. Every successful raid is a boot heel ground into the burning memory of Dake Sureblood—and their secret son is a constant reminder of their shared past….

Ambushed and captured before he can clear his name, Dake Sureblood returns from a hell like no other to expose the true killer of Val's father. But as the identity of their enemy becomes chillingly clear, the former lovers must put aside their mistrust and join forces to protect their clans and their precious son.

Susan Grant is one of a handful of authors who write science fiction romances. I enjoy the sub-genre so I wish there were more writing it. Thankfully, Grant looks to be continuing her Borderlands series, giving readers more sci-fi romances to look forward to.

Valeeya Blue is about to get what she's been wanting - command of a skiff. It's a small craft, built for boarding freighters. Val, along with the crew of the Varagon, are about to conduct a raid - boarding a freighter believe to be carrying stolen ore. Pirating is a hard life for Val but it's one she's always wanted and has worked hard to get where she is. Right off, I liked Val. We meet her when she's still working her way up the ranks. Val's the daughter of the clan-leader and some think she should be seeking to create an alliance through marriage, not as a raider on a pirate ship. She certainly had some obstacles to overcome!

The raid doesn't go as planned, instead Val runs into Dake Sureblood, leader of a rival clan. They do eventually form a tentative truce and must work together. Val and Dake even come to like each other, spending some quality time together. It doesn't last long. Val's father is murdered and the Surebloods are blamed. Fast forward five years and there is still bad blood between the clans. There are also secrets that are about to be revealed that could change everything Val and Dake believe. Val has matured a lot, much of which was due to necessity. She has been leading her clan during the difficult times since her father's death.

I didn't mind that Val and Dake are apart for some of the story. It wasn't a lot and it built the storyline of why Val is so distrustful of the Surebloods as well as giving their rivals opportunities to escalate that distrust. The hostility between the two clans is still there but they also have other things to worry about. Keeping the clans feed and taken care of has become challenging and pirating has become even more dangerous.

When Dake comes back into Val's life he's not greeted with open arms. Instead, his greeting is more of a greeting for a hated enemy. It's good that Dake is very stubborn and is determined to get Val on his side. I liked the way these two related to each other. They had much in common, both raiders, both born to clan-leaders. They came from different places, different climates with different societies but ultimately it's their loyalty and love of their clans and love for each other that brings them back together. While they were separated they both went through terrible times, Dake's circumstances were horrendous. The way Dake had to not only overcome the nightmares of his imprisonment but also trust Val and her clan - it was certainly hero worthy!

The secondary characters round out the story nicely with a sweet romance between Val's friend and the woman he helps rescue. And Val and Dake's son is adorable with flashes of his parents stubbornness and intelligence. There's also Lord Viro Nezerihm who is a vicious nemesis that has no problem using people and enjoying punishing those that displease him. He hates Val and Dake and will do anything to destroy them.

This is book three in the series but I don't think you would have any problem understanding what is happening in the world building. Grant does a good job explaining the political and social aspects of the world of the Borderlands. Sureblood delivered the science fiction setting with romance and action to create a captivating tale.

Rating: B+